With Michael Bourn signing with the Cleveland Indians, Kyle Lohse is the best free agent on the market.
The starter had the best season of his career in 2012. He won 16 games and had the top winning percentage of any pitcher with at least 10 victories. His 2.86 earned-run average was among the best in the National League.
Still, Lohse has been unable to find work, with pitchers and catchers already reporting to Spring Training. At this point, Lohse will likely have to settle for a one-year deal. A team that signs him will have to give up their first-round draft pick, and every baseball general manager seems reluctant to do so for a starter that will be 35 years old when the playoffs begin.
Lohse has been too good in the past few seasons to remain a free agent for much longer.
Here are three teams that are most likely to give Lohse a contract:
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In 2012, Washington finished with a team-record 98 wins. The Nationals were the best team in the regular season, mainly due to their stellar pitching staff. They had the best ERA in the National League, including the top rotation in the league.
Why would Washington give up a draft pick for Lohse when they have so many good pitchers?
There’s a chance the club will be without their top starter for almost a third of the 2013 season. Gio Gonzalez won 21 games and with a 2.89 ERA, but may have done so with the help of banned substances. He has been tied to the Biogenesis clinic, where other players like Alex Rodriguez and Nelson Cruz reportedly received performance-enhancing drugs.
Even without a failed drug test, Gonzalez could be suspended for 50 games for a first time offense. According to Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post, the team could sign Lohse as an insurance policy. The Nationals already gave up their first-round pick when they signed Rafael Soriano, so they might take a chance on Lohse
St. Louis Cardinals
Some teams may be concerned whether or not Lohse will succeed with them, but the Cardinals know that the right-hander can pitch well in St. Louis. He resurrected his career in the past two years, winning 30 games with the club.
With prospects Shelby Miller and Trevor Rosenthal, and second-year pitcher Joe Kelly around, St. Louis had the luxury of letting the aging veteran go. That luxury may have vanished when Chris Carpenter suffered an injury that will keep him out for the entire season.
Even without Carpenter, a rotation led by Adam Wainwright, Jake Westbrook and Lance Lynn might allow the Cardinals to take a chance on their young pitchers. However, Lohse would provide stability on a staff that could make the Cardinals favorites in the NL.
Since Lohse pitched for St. Louis in 2012, the organization wouldn’t have to give up a draft pick to sign him. That, coupled with injuries in the rotation, might force them to bring back Lohse for a third season.
It came as quite a surprise when the Indians were the team that landed Bourn. Now, there’s a chance they’ll make another shocking decision and go after Lohse.
The Indians were able to get good value for Bourn, who significantly lowered his asking price. As Opening Day approaches, Lohse may have to ask for less money and years, as well.
In 2012, Cleveland was one of the worst teams in baseball. Their 68 wins kept them far away from the playoff race, and their deficiencies on the pitching staff were the biggest reason. The Indians ranked last in the American League with a 4.78 ERA.
Even if they aren’t ready to compete atop the Central Division, the Indians need to improve their rotation for 2013. Lohse might become the team’s best starter. Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez were major disappointments in 2012, finishing the year with a combined record of 20-32.
Lohse might not be a long-term solution for Cleveland, but he would certainly make them better in the upcoming season.